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Up in the Air 1940
Description: A none-too-popular (nor good) radio singer, Rita Wilson is murdered while singing on the air in a radio studio. Radio page boy, Frankie Ryan, and his janitor pal, Jeff, solve the mystery for the none-too-sharp police.
Released: 09 Sep 1940 Director: Howard Bretherton Writers: Edmond Kelso (screen play), Edmond Kelso (original story) Actors: Frankie Darro, Marjorie Reynolds, Mantan Moreland, Gordon Jones Genres: Action, Comedy, Music
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Up in the Air Reviews:

The morning after watching this, my wife and I sat at the kitchen table discussing it, and found we had nothing to talk about but Mantan Moreland. The plot is cute much a series of contrivances to hang cases on, and the inevitable solution of the "who killed..." mystery doesn't seem to be the driving force. It's all about Mantan. I have seen him as comedy relief in a dozen movies, and he everytime steals each stage he is in, but I have never seen him dominate like this. He makes everyone else into his straight man, and constantly subverts and deflates authority figures. Each time someone tells "I've got an idea," or "I've been thinking," he's on the spot with his "UH-OH!" There is nothing cowardly (as it often appears in his Charlie Chan roles) about his fierce common- sense determination to transport away from trouble, not toward it. He sometimes seems like the only one who is not dangerously foolish. Mantan and Frankie Darro work together really well here and, though modern sensibilities may be jarred by Darro donning blackface to test to receive them a radio job as a comedy duo, they come across as peers and friends, not boss and lackey as so often occurs in movies of this era. The highest mission is Mantan's dance stage - inserted into the storyline for no reason but its sheer entertainment value - in which he is so suave, smooth, cool, cute, and downright huggable it's hard not to exclaim in delight. The film plugs along gamely in the moments when Mantan is not on screen, and provides some cute fair musical numbers, but he is the true shining light in this production.


Up in the Air, a quickie 1940 B film cranked out on a tight budget and on an even tighter shooting schedule, is worth viewing at least once. It's representative of all those cheap bread-and-butter films the studios churned out designed to fill the lower bill of America's film houses. If you don't have some familiarity with these movies you just won't understand what a lot of Hollywood was about before and, to a degree, right after WWII. For each Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth and John Ford, there were thousands of journeymen, boys and women, directing, writing, acting in and making possible all these movies. The movie, only 61 mins long, is a comedy murder mystery which was a famous staple back then. This time the formula also calls for songs. There are three original ones and, like the movie, they're not bad. It stars a long forgotten actor called Frankie Darrow, who was large items in the B film business back in the mid-Thirties through the mid-Forties. Darrow was a small, lean guy who got his begin as a kid actor. His large years were spent testing jockeys and high school students. At 5' 3" and when tastes changed right after WWII, Darrow was quickly left behind after he returned from the Navy. By 1950, when he was 33, he was only getting bit parts. He and a partner finally purchased a bar in Hollywood, a terrible move. Darrow became a serious alcoholic, but at least a relatively good-natured one. Except for occasional film and tv bits, he was washed up. If you admire Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet, Darrow was one of two boys hired to take turns being inside Robby to create him move. That's present biz, kids. One another interesting thing to note. This is one of seven movies Darrow made between 1939 and 1941 in which he everytime plays a young boy called Frankie and everytime partners with a buddy called Jeff. The two invariably receive mixed up in mystery, with Frankie determined to solve the crime and Jeff reluctantly backing him up. The interesting thing is that Jeff in these seven films everytime is played by Mantan Moreland. Although Moreland does his trademark eye-popping, it's not as exaggerated as it usually was. There's almost none of the foot- shuffling and chitlin dialect that Hollywood made its black actors use. Except for one, thankfully brief (but funny) comedy routine Darrow and Moreland do as Rastus and Mose with Darrow in blackface (but which Moreland dominates), the Jeff hero is, for Hollywood of the period, unusually color blind. With Up in the Air, Darrow plays Frankie Ryan, an energetic and confident young boy employed as a page at Amalgamated Broadcasting Company. His ambition is to snag a comedy spot on one of its radio shows. He meets Anne Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), newly hired as a lobby greeter who wants to be a singer. Wouldn't you know it, Rita Wilson, the snooty and well-known singer on one of Amalgamated's top shows, takes a bullet in the heart during a rehearsal. Frankie is determined to search the killer, promote Anne into the singing slot, and at least receive a comedy try-out possibility with Jeff in front of the producers. Frankie is the type of inexhaustibly active fellow who everytime snaps his fingers when he gets an idea, then charges out of the room, or down the hall, or up the stairs, or through a doorway. Eventually, sometimes with the support of the police and sometimes not, Frankie, with Jeff close behind, makes the assassin come forth. There are no nice surprises. The acting is competent and the film moves quickly through its 61 minutes. Up in the Air isn't a waste of time exactly, but it supports if you do a tiny reading about Darrow and Hollywood's B-movie factories. About those three songs. Unlike the movie, they're worth experiencing more than once. "Doin' the Congo," written by Edward Kay, Lew Porter and Johnny Lange, is a very great Latin rhythm number. "Somehow or Other" and "By the Looks of Things," written by Kay and Harry Tobias, are light swing numbers. "By the Looks of Things," especially, is a song that is much better than it required to be. Marjorie Reynolds sings all three.


Frankie Darro and Mantan Moreland made few film together in the 1930's and 40's where they were cute much on equal footing with every another despite everything that was going on around them. They were the stereotypical buddies of the buddy film. Normally that wouldn't mean much except that Darro was white and Moreland was black and in each another movie of their time no one should be as they were unless they both were white.Race has absolutely nothing to do with the plot of Up in the Air, which concerns a series of murders at a radio station. I mention the fact notion of race simply because the script for this film was used two or three more times with out nary a change for white co-stars. The fact that the script was re-used is also an very nice indication that the movie is a very nice one. No its not flawless, there are tiny bumps here and there and a couple of jumps in logic, but as excuse for murder and silliness in the typical Hollywood style one need not look much farther than this film.



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